know 2 grow
CITIZEN SCIENTISTS By Angela De Groot
an kids really contribute to science? Well, from their own backyards, neighborhood parks, school playgrounds, and open fields, kids can collect and log data that scientists can use to discover answers to research questions. This is called citizen science. So, what exactly is citizen science? According to Loree Griffin Burns, PhD, author of Citizen Scientists, The Hive Detectives, and Tracking Trash, citizen science “is the study of our world by the people who live in it.” Kids are uniquely suited to certain areas of observation because of their size, their enthusiasm, and their single-minded focus. “Young people see the world differently than older people do. And when it comes to working in the field as a citizen scientist, these differences are important.” With a grownup’s guidance, even very young children can participate, whether it’s a short-duration bird census project focused around your backyard birdfeeder, or a year-long study of birds in your neighborhood. “With flash cards (available online or from nature centers) of the common birds, very young naturalists can learn the species common in their environment and begin to track when they show up in their own yards or nearby green spaces,” Burns says. [Great Backyard Bird Count http://gbbc.birdcount.org/] Another fun project for the very young involves hunting for and identifying ladybugs by their spot-patterns and colors. [Lost Ladybug Project http://www.lostladybug.org/] There are countless citizen science project opportunities to choose from. Some are season or location dependent, may run for a short period or are longer in duration. Most have flexible commitment obligations and
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can be as informal or as intensive as you and your kids want the project to be. From mushrooms to moles, and everything in between, you are bound to find an ideal project at one of these websites: At CitSci.org search for projects by location, season, and topic. Choose from a large selection of projects, including urban tree monitoring where participants collect tree data, and a New Jersey Invasives Strike Force that collects information about invasive plant species found along trails in NJ. www.citsci.org • Journey North has citizen science projects for tracking the migration of monarch butterflies, robins, and hummingbirds, along with projects for frog and earthworm fans. Kids can post their sightings, view maps, and monitor live webcams. www.learner.org/jnorth/projects • National Geographic’s citizen science projects include surveys of frog and toad populations, bird counts, and water testing activities. www.nationalgeographic.org/idea/citizen-science-projects • SciStarter’s Where Is My Spider project tracks the distribution of spiders over time. Find and record spiders in and around your neighborhood and upload your photos. www.scistarter.com • The National Wildlife Federation site teaches citizen science skills and provides parents with engaging outdoor learning experiences to try with their kids. You can plug in your state then print off a list of plant and animal life common to your area. Kids can upload their own photos of wildlife to the NWF Wildlife Watch site. www.birds.cornell.edu/citscitoolkit/projects/nwf/wildlifewatch Citizen science project opportunities are endless. And so is the joy your family will have exploring the natural world around them. Visit www.loreeburns.com to find out more about Loree Griffin Burns’ work and books.
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